It’s no secret that I have a little bit of love for tapes so I thought it would be great to round off today with an interview of one of my favourite tape labels, Chemical Tapes. Here’s what Rob from Chemical has to say about the revival of the cassette.
For years people have said that the cassette is dead, but it seems to be making a resurgence. What factors do you think are driving the popularity of tape?
Certainly cost, I know in my case I wasn’t very interested in releasing CDr’s or being a netlabel and vinyl was too expensive to just jump straight into.
You have a fairly granular control over just how much you want to spend, personally from a design and aesthetic point of view we wanted pro-dubbed cassettes and pro-printed covers but you could choose to home dub and home print if you want so it becomes very feasible to have your own label or as an artist to self release a physical product and it not costing you a fortune.
There is also that nostalgic retro vibe that comes with cassettes for my generation, Much like vinyl it has that charm of analogue imperfection and the tangible listening experience that engages you, giving you time to properly connect and digest the music, perhaps the resurgence of the format is also a reaction to the insta-access of the digital age and the limited edition nature of cassette releases probably helps, small limited edition runs of artists that people are really into helps to generate that buzz.
Given that it is becoming more popular, why do you think more artists are looking to make their releases on cassette and what sort of artists do you think work best with the medium?
The sheer number of cassette labels out there gives lesser known or up-and-coming artists a chance to get a release out as opposed to a larger vinyl or pressed cd label. Due to the reduced costs tape labels can take more of a gamble. Ever since the cassette ‘died’ its still been a valid format in underground/experimental music scenes, it’s generally these artists that embrace the format.
What makes a really good cassette release in terms of the content from the artist and the overall design of the package?
Well first and foremost its about the music, but many tape labels really push the boat out on the art and design front with super custom handmade packaging, when you only have for example 75 copies to worry about you can really go for it. Also these days you tend to see tapes released alongside the digital version, which is something I do and something I look for when buying from other labels myself. Its nice to have the limited edition physical object with the flexibility of the digital version.
What kind of artists are best suited to cassette releases and why?
As I mentioned before its generally the more experimental DIY music scenes who have enjoyed the format in recent years, it’s these niche genres where artists, labels, and listeners are really open to ideas both old and new and are willing to try something different. But who am I to say, the beauty of the format is that anyone can do it, just know your listeners and make sure they’re as into it as you are!
What’s been your most successful release and why?
I think each release finds it’s little corner of appreciation, obviously the more well known names tend to sell quicker and are more likely to get accepted by mail-order shops. I will only release music that I personally love, if it happens to sell well thats great, but it doesn’t dictate what I put out.
What advice would you give to any artists looking to start releasing their material on cassette?
Don’t expect to make a shedload of cash, oh and think about balancing your tracks between 2 sides of a tape, thats always helpful!
Do you think other more esoteric formats will start to re-emerge as cassette and vinyl become more popular?
I’d be surprised if any reach the level that those two have, it’s cool to see the odd floppy disk or VHS release though. It’s nice to know that people are still out there experimenting and doing their own thing with various formats from the past.
What’s coming up next and what does the future hold for Chemical tapes?
We have two new releases that are almost ready, ‘Sima Kim – Whatever’ and ‘Bastian Void – Phonics’. Two quite different tapes, Sima Kim’s being lovely delicate post-classical ambience and includes two remixes from Wil Bolton and Hakobune. Bastian Void’s is a serious retro dream-state synth album. We’ve also just had our first batch of t-shirts made up which I’m really happy with. We have more releases planned for the future and will continue to provide various doses for research purposes. We also hope to launch our ‘sister’ label Chemical Beats soon as well, this will be a vinyl based label for deep psychedelic techno experiments, both Andrew and myself have had a love of techno for 20 odd years so it will be nice to have a platform for that form of music too, we are currently in discussions with artists and are looking forward to seeing how it goes.